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22 Apr 2010

Howard Dodson, Jr. to retire as Director of the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

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April 22, 2010 Category: Diaspora Posted by:

New York, NY–Howard Dodson, Jr., a national leader in the movement to preserve African American history, will retire from his position as Director of The New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in February 2011. At the Schomburg his visionary leadership over 25 years developed the Center into the world’s leading and most prestigious repository for materials and artifacts on the global black experience.


“I never imagined that 25 years would go by so fast and that so much would be accomplished in that time to honor our ancestors while preserving their history and heritage,” says Dodson. “It has been an honor and privilege to play a part in making the Schomburg Center an institution of respect and renown.”


Under his direction, the Center, which has grown into a 75,000 square-foot complex–has produced unprecedented programs and exhibitions, enhanced the accessibility of its materials through digital initiatives, doubled its collections from 5 to more than 10 million items, and built a national membership base of more than 10,000 people.


“Howard Dodson’s superb leadership in all the areas of the Center’s operations leave it strongly positioned for future service and continued growth”, said Library President Paul LeClerc. “He combines a deep commitment to scholarship with an instinct for dynamic public outreach. This blend of attributes has enabled Howard to build the Schomburg into a robust hub of African American culture and a model for other libraries and institutions.”


“In addition to the cultural legacy he leaves on site in Harlem, Howard has brought the resources of the Center to a broad audience beyond its walls,” said Library Chairman Catherine Marron. “Through innovative digital resources, travelling exhibitions, and outside collaborations Howard has extended the Schomburg’s reach and reputation to an international audience. His passion and commitment have helped all Americans understand the important history of people of African descent.”


A search committee chaired by Library trustees Gordon Davis and Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has been formed to oversee the recruitment of a new Director. “Howard’s combined managerial skills, intellectual interests and entrepreneurial talents have contributed to phenomenal growth of the Schomburg Center,” says Dr. Gates. “We celebrate his accomplishments and thank him for his unwavering commitment and passion over the last 25 years.”


The roots of The New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture extend to 1925 when the Library’s Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints was founded in the 135th Street Branch.


The personal collection of distinguished scholar and bibliophile Arturo Alfonso Schomburg was added to the Division in 1926. In 1972, it was designated as one of the Library’s Research Libraries, and in 1980 a modern new building was constructed. Howard Dodson was hired as Chief of the Center in 1984.


Dodson spearheaded the development of two capital campaigns for the Schomburg Center that raised over $40 million to support the expansion and renovation of the Center’s facilities and fund its diverse programs and services. The first completed in 1991, raised $15.2 million in public and private funds. The second round, a 75th Anniversary Campaign launched in 2000, raised $26 million.


The Center’s annual operating budget has increased from a million to $6 million under his leadership.


During his tenure he has brought notable collections to the Schomburg including the papers of such figures as Malcolm X, Ralph Bunche, Nat King Cole, Lorraine Hansberry, Arthur Ashe, Panamanian journalist and Ambassador George Westerman; as well as the collections of anthropologists Melville Herskovits and St. Clair Drake.


Collections of photographs by Marvin and Morgan Smith, Austin Hansen, and Margaret Courtney-Clark, and the Bill Greaves documentary film and video collection, and the South Africa Now program archive have also been acquired under Dodson’s leadership. Resources documenting the black presence in Latin America and the Caribbean have also been strengthened.


Publishing projects Dodson spearheaded have included numerous microform editions of collections of original documents, a six volume encyclopedia of African American history and culture, a thirty-volume collection of writings by African-American women, a thirty-volume online collection on Black studies entitled Schomburg Studies on the Black Experience, and numerous reference and interpretative works on African-American and African Diasporan themes.


The Center has also supported thousands of works by scholars, artists, educators, journalists and filmmakers through its rich and diverse collections.


Under Dodson’s stewardship the Schomburg Center has been an innovator in using the Internet to increase access to library materials. It published the online edition of books by 19th-Century African American women writers and a large collection of photos, which helped foster the development of Black Women Studies offered at prominent universities and colleges around the country.


Today Digital Schomburg, the Center’s portal to digital resources offers access to several major exhibitions such as In Motion: The African American Migration Experience, which examines thirteen defining migrations that formed and transformed African America; The Abolition of the Slave Trade: the Hidden Story, which looks at the long process of eradicating the slave trade to the Western Hemisphere; and African Americans and American Politics, which documents the role of African Americans in United States’ politics from the time of the country’s founding through today. These thematic projects showcase thousands of texts and images from the Schomburg’s Collections while also providing new scholarly insights into African and African Diasporan history and culture.


Dodson expanded and enhanced the quality of the Schomburg Center’s exhibitions, public programs, and special events. He personally curated or co-curated over 25 exhibitions and produced and presented major tribute programs at the Shubert and Majestic Theaters on Broadway, as well as at Carnegie Hall.


The numerous thought-provoking exhibitions curated by Dodson, based largely on the Center’s collections, include: Malcolm X: A Search for Truth; Black New Yorkers: Black New York; Stereotypes vs. Humantypes: Images of Blacks in the 19th and 20th Centuries; and “Lest We Forget”: The Triumph Over Slavery, which was adopted by the UNESO Slave Route Project. Multilingual versions of the exhibition have travelled to over 30 venues in Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America.


During his tenure, Dodson established three programs for aspiring and established scholars: a Junior Scholars Program for eleven to seventeen year-olds; a Summer Institute for college seniors; and a post doctoral Scholars-in-Residence Program. The Junior Scholars program ran for eight years and served 150 students annually through a 25-week Saturday program in Black history and culture. More than 1,200 students overall participated. The six-year-old Summer Institute offers 10 college seniors an intensive six-week program designed to encourage them to pursue doctoral degrees in the Humanities.


The Center’s 23-year-old Scholars-in-Residence Program has annually supported four to six fellows researching projects based on the Center’s collections. To date 108 scholars have benefited from this program.


Dodson also played a national leadership role in preserving and memorializing New York City’s African Burial Ground. He led the efforts to establish it as a national monument within the National Parks system and produced the re-interment and dedication ceremonies. He has contributed to developing and preserving heritage sites including The Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Center at the Audubon Ballroom and the National Center for Documenting Afro Colombian Culture in Quibdo, Colombia, South America. He also served on the Presidential commission to establish the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, and was an advisor on the Freedom Park National Monument in Pretoria, South Africa.


Howard Dodson was born in Chester, Pennsylvania in 1939. He graduated from West Chester State College in 1961 with a degree in social studies and secondary education and in 1964 received a Masters Degree in history and political science from Villanova University.


Dodson joined the Peace Corps in 1964, serving for two years in Ecuador and subsequently as a national Peace Corps office staff member. He then entered a Doctoral program in “History of Black People and Race Relations” at the University of California at Berkeley, where he focused on the comparative history of slavery in the Western Hemisphere. Prior to joining the Schomburg Center he was a consultant in the Office of the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. He served in a number of capacities from 1970 to 1979 at the Institute for the Black World in Atlanta, including Executive Director from 1974 to 1979.


In 1991 Dodson was asked by New York City Mayor David Dinkins to chair the Federal Steering Committee for the African Burial Ground Project. He was a founding member of the Board of Directors of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, serving on its executive committee and as Chair of its Cultural Arts Committee. He served as vice chairman and a member of the Board of the Apollo Theatre and was a member of the Scientific and Technical Committee of the UNESCO Slave Route Project for 10 years.


Dodson has lectured widely on various issues nationally and internationally and has written for numerous publications as well as appeared regularly on radio and television. An acclaimed author, his books include “Becoming American: The African-American Journey”; “In Motion: the African-American Migration Experience”; “Jubilee: the Emergence of African-American Culture”; and “The Black New Yorkers: The Schomburg Illustrated Chronology”.


Dodson has been awarded Honorary Doctorates by Villanova University (2007), The City University of New York (2006); West Chester State University (2005); Adelphi University (2004); and Widner University (1987.)

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